Steelers’ lessons from Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown sagas will impact future player relations

first_img“I know Coach Tomlin is great at it,” Colbert continued. “Coach Tomlin understands and manages player emotions very well. So I have no worry about his ability — not just in Antonio’s case, but in any player’s case. Players are very emotional, they’re disappointed, they all hate the loose. We all hate to lose. And there’s some things that are said during the course of the game, especially right after the game or during the game, 10 minutes afterwards, it’s forgotten.”Colbert was asked how he feels about the “amount of drama that has been following the team the past couple of years,” and he disagreed with that description of the team, however common it’s become in the media.”I really don’t agree with the perception that there’s huge drama within the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room,” Colbert said. “Again, Coach Tomlin treats our players like men. He gives them the opportunity to be a man. And he tries to grow them not only as professional football players but as fathers and brothers or just as men. I have complete disagreement with the perception that our locker room is anything other than very functional.”Maybe it’s outside the locker room, then. Because Colbert did acknowledge the team must do better. Whether Brown remains or not, the Steelers will hope some of the current players or this season’s draft picks develop into the sort of star-level performers Bell became as a second-round draft pick or Brown did, improbably, from the sixth round. The Steelers are in a similar circumstance now, as they prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft. Finding players who fit the franchise is essential, as is managing the ascent of those who excel.”We’ll come out of this with a different opinion from where we entered,” Colbert told SN. “We scouted all these players, and now we just get some verification of what we believe. We’ll also get into the free agency process, and a player we thought we might not be able to afford, now maybe we will. And of course, that changes your draft strategy.”This thing continues to unfold, really, daily. When you get into the interviews, maybe you come away liking a kid better than you did before.” (Getty Images) It is a different time now.Pittsburgh is the Steel City in name only, and it appears that can be true of Steelers players, too.MORE: Latest Antonio Brown trade rumors”We want players to grow into great players, Pro Bowlers, potential Hall of Famers,” general manager Kevin Colbert told Sporting News at the NFL Combine. “But I think we’re learning, and it’s a different world. We look at what we’re doing here at the Combine, 30 years ago it didn’t happen. So it’s a different world. Social media has changed things. Branding has changed things.”So we have to do a better job of managing young players as they grow into megastars. That’s something I think we’re learning on the fly. It’s a little more relevant this year because of Le’Veon’s situation and Antonio’s situation. But the lesson is, maybe we’ve got to catch these guys when they’re young.”The Steelers’ struggle — oh, hell, their inability — to manage these two personalities defined the 2018 season (Bell) and the 2019 offseason (Brown). They were the No. 1 story in the NFL until the alleged improprieties of Patriots owner Robert Kraft knocked them off the front page.Holding nearly $15 million of their salary cap aside for Bell and thus leaving too much of their defense in disrepair helped lead to the team not making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. That impending failure seemed to spark a greater degree of discontentment from Brown, whose refusal to show up for work in the days preceding the season’s final game led to him being declared inactive and to AB responding by demanding a trade. INDIANAPOLIS — Antonio Brown wants out, and he has talked, tweeted, posted and emojied about his desire to leave the Steelers pretty much weekly since they were eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season. Le’Veon Bell wanted so little to do with the team he declined $14.5 million to play for it, then then $13.6 million, then $12.7 million and, ultimately, $6 million by the time the final deadline to play in 2018 had passed.This is not how it typically works in Pittsburgh. There are 10 Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who never played a game with another NFL franchise. Their past three coaches have had an average tenure of 17 years. And counting.center_img It’s still not clear if that will happen, although the Steelers promised Brown they would try. It remains the most likely next step, but Colbert reiterated Wednesday the team only is interested in a deal if it involves a reasonable return.”Antonio Brown is one of the best players in the National Football League. We like to have him on our team,” Colbert said. “So if you lose a player like that, if you decide to take a player like that off your team, you best have the compensation that would justify removing that player in the form of a draft pick or picks, or a player and picks just so you can try to balance off the great loss that will happen when you lose that player.”Anything we do has to benefit us.”Colbert said earlier this month he had been contacted by three teams interested in trading for Brown. “What I would say is that interest has grown and it’ll continue to grow one way or another because we’re here at the Combine, we’re learning about alternatives to your current team. Whatever the position may be, you may come away feeling better, you may feel worse. But the one thing that doesn’t change is Brown’s value not only to us, but to anybody in the National Football League. He is who he is. So we have to weigh that. Other teams have to weigh that against what their alternatives are, and that’ll be more clear at the end of this week.”Colbert said he would like to trade Brown to a team the Steelers never have to play, obviously an impossibility in the NFL. If a team in the AFC North wants AB, though, Colbert made it clear it would come at a hefty price.MORE: Where will Brown play in 2019?Since the end of the season, when Brown essentially quit on the team by declining to attend a scheduled medical test and then having his agent call coach Mike Tomlin to declare Brown ready to play against the Bengals — Tomlin responded that playing was “wasn’t on the menu” — AB has reiterated his desire to be traded from the team in myriad venues, from Instagram and Twitter to media interviews during Super Bowl week. He declined to respond to repeated efforts from Tomlin and team president Art Rooney II to contact him, but ultimately met Feb. 19 with Rooney. The team promised an attempt to accommodate him.There are salary cap issues for the Steelers if they do trade Brown, and also the concern about having to face him on the field. Brown has produced six consecutive seasons of 100 or more catches and caught 15 touchdown passes in 2018, even without playing in that final game.Colbert was pressed hard on whether it was possible for a player who has taken these public and private actions still could function comfortably with the team. It was hard not to get the impression Colbert was protecting Brown’s trade value as he answered.”I’ve seen players during the course of a game, after a game, after a season to the next season — things always change,” Colbert said. “And that’s, that’s not uncommon. We’ve seen it a million times. Players get emotional, players get through it … teams benefit if they can all manage that.” In October 2014, after Matt Painter’s Purdue Boilermakers had finished last in the Big Ten with a 5-13 league record and missed a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, the coach stood up at Big Ten basketball media and blamed himself for that decline. He said “it was not for lack of talent” the Boilers were losing, rather he had neglected to recruit to the program’s culture. He believed that year’s freshman class was prepared to change everything; indeed, that group never missed the NCAA Tournament, won the 2017 Big Ten title and last year finished with 30 wins. (Getty Images)

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